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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

I first saw the gleaming metallic skull, then the horn, then the silver headlight. A few men sat nearby on foldout chairs, not minding my presence. The bike was gorgeous, even among a row of similar-style cruisers. One of the men motioned behind him, and pointed out the bike’s owner, who then noticed me and bolted forward. His name was Juan, and he looked about 60.  Like the other men, he wore a black leather vest, decorated with scores of pins—various military insignia, Puerto Rican flags, and a seaming hodge podge of affiliations. He rummaged through his wallet to try to find a card that identified his bike club—they meet every week, and he’d been working on his bike for eight years, he said. He spoke in a mix of Spanish and English, and even though I could’ve answered in Spanish I inexplicably chickened out, and mostly nodded my acknowledgement throughout the conversation. He couldn’t find the card, but asked if I’d come tomorrow. The crew would be there again. I said I’d try.

(Further investigation revealed the club is called Dueños de Bicicletas, or Classics Bronx Bicycle Club. A bit of background (and a shot of Juan circa 2007), here.)

Juan and his Schwinn, painstakingly built over 8 years

Juan and his Schwinn, painstakingly built over 8 years

This was my second time visiting Orchard Beach, located in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. The first was this winter, and unsurprisingly it was empty then—sad and dirty looking. But yesterday? Yesterday was a different scene. Every few feet a group of four of five sat on foldout chairs along the promenade, listening to salsa music, with those standing moving their hips ever-so-slightly. Looking out towards the water, I spotted several girls wearing Puerto Rican flag bikinis, and paying a bit more attention, those groups on the promenade? Most had long rods attached to their chairs, flying the Puerto Rican flag. Vendors sold shirts that said—“Orchard Beach—the Riviera of the Bronx,” and “Orchard Beach—little Puerto Rico.” All of a sudden I was in a Spike Lee joint, feeling more New York than ever.

We came to Orchard beach on the recommendation of the May issue of Backpacker Magazine. Hidden behind the party atmosphere lay Pelham Bay Park.

Sample rocky coastlines, beachside boardwalks, and brackish wetlands on this five-mile dayhike in Pelham Bay, the largest park in New York City“

I’d only heard the name during traffic reports ”…bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Pelham Bay Parkway,” but nary had an idea where or what it was. Turns out the shoreline and accompanying rocks out-date the Long Island Sound by millennia; the quartz, garnet, and feldspar bedrock exposed by moving glaciers during the last ice age. It’s the largest park in the City, however only a small fraction navigable by human foot. Wildlife, however, seem to feel quite at home in the salt marshes, coves, and along the crop of islands. We walked inside the ranger booth to ask about the trail, and the enthusiastic man inside told us to go around the perimeter of Hunter Island, that it was his favorite spot in all of NYC. Animals seen en route: herons,  breeding horseshoe crabs, horses (ok, those were technically in a stable where we parked), and one very peaceful looking rabbit. Worth the trip from Brooklyn? Most definitely. Am I sorry we didn’t instead go to Bear Mountain? Nope.

Detailed trail map and GPS coordinates, here.

View from Twin Island

View from Twin Island

View from Hunter Island

View from Hunter Island

Horshoecrab mating season @Orchard Beach

Horshoecrab mating season @Orchard Beach

More pics and a vid of the crabs getting all crazy: here.

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El final del semestre

Well it’s official: Ayer terminé mi curso de español (yesterday I finished my Spanish level 2 course).

I’m happy to be done. I find out if I placed into the level 3 next week. I’m going to miss my crew, our bumbling discussions of our favorite foods in Barcelona, description of our family (mine was very short), comparing everything to our ‘home city,’ the professor’s comical ineptitude in remembering many of the Chinese students’ names (one girl was bold to point out every other week of the professor’s mistake). Crossing my fingers about moving on, excited to finally figure out when to use the various past tenses, nervous about finding the time to dedicate to Spanish with a full load at Uni this semester, and on the lookout for a new language exchange partner. I semi-lost Albert to graduation, he’s back in Lleida after finishing his studies at the culinary institute.

Of the week-long final exam,  my favorite part was a listening comprehension video of a show about Spanish expats around the world. The episode was about a 30-something chick, long dark knotty hair,art-print tee, extra wide pants, describing her life in Guinea, Africa. One of the characters which we have to identify, via multiple choice, was a man whose responsibility it is to open the gate to her house. The girl points to scores of canvases of comic book style drawings of her topless native boyfriend/fiancée, who interjects when the topic turns to the baby they are expecting and the her family. We are to note that he is a bit perturbed with her Spanish family, because they are constantly trying to fatten him up. He looks about 6 foot, 140 pounds. They then talk about their obsession with watching a daily soap opera, and she shows us some of her favorite art pieces she’s collected while there, one of which is a voodoo looking doll that (I think) she says still gives her nightmares. I can’t make out much more.  They talk so fast and float about the room, pointing out one thing or another, constantly turning away from the camera. I guess I still have a long ways to go…

Here are some photos of my classmates from our end of semester trip, which took place right before the Holidays– a walk through the historic Barri Gotic and Born neighborhoods of the city. The last is with Albert. He drove up for the day to ski with Dim and me for our long weekend in Andorra  last weekend.

Mary, from Perth, looking sharp on Plaza Reial

Miro's pavement mosaic on the Ramblas

Eating pinxos at the tasca vasca

By Albert's hard core Range Rover, in Andorra

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In Memoriam

I just found out that Diego Calvo, my Spanish teacher from Buenos Aires, died this Thursday from lung  failure. I kept putting off an email telling him that I miss him. That my current teacher sucks. And all written in Spanish, so he could see the product of his teaching efforts. Well, I waited too long, and he never got my email, because I never sent it.

Diego with mate in class

Diego with mate in class

This summer at Spanish language school in Buenos Aires, I weaseled my way into a higher level class. And so I met Diego, my teacher. He was such an odd lot– only 31, but divorced with two small kids. He shared stories of squatting for some time with gypsies in BA, of working for a newspaper in Madrid, of ghostwriting three novels.  Although us students begged him to bring him some of his work, he slyly rebuffed us, saying they were too ‘nightmarish.’  He claimed to be an anarchist, but for all that that implies, hated to travel and was content living in the neighborhood where he grew up. One day he came in wearing high top Doc Martins and a Gogol Bordello shirt on his small frame and I realized he was, by far, the coolest teacher I’ve ever had. He made us yerba matte  in class, and brought in pastries Friday mornings just because, even though I knew his finances were strained. He got super excited when you asked him questions about grammar, and had some other choice words for the likes of his ex-wife. He was hysterical and sad and chain smoked Camel Lights on the patio during breaks.

Here is the last correspondence I received from Diego after emailing him the photo, above.

    Qué lindas fotos Nina!
    Lástima la cara de culo del profesor.
    Cómo que el subjuntivo no te lame??? Qué escandaloso!
    Extraño esa clase, fue muy divertida.
    Besos a todos!

    D

See? I told you he was funny. RIP Diego. I’m really going to miss you.

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bye bye BA

Our sendoff meal was a mountain of lasagna, cooked up by none other than Mendoza Danielle, the curly haird Italian guy. The weather was crap for the past few days, rain and clouds, which prevented us from doing anything remotely ourdoorsy, so we instead finally made it to the Museum of Bellas Artes, where I marveled at the increible collection of 20th century modern art on the second floor, with Argnetine surrealists, cubists, and abtractionists that I´d never heard of (MoMa, you have failed me).

The last week of Spanish class was hard. We started on the subjunctive case, which is HARD, and I was growing a uneasy about separating from my classmated. There is Alana– a shy Baltimore native with bright red curly hair and a body full of tattoos, which the season´s cold weather hid from view most days. We went out together on a few occasions, and I felt privileged to be one of the few she chose as friends. Camilla was a tall and thin incredibly congenial and funny Londoner, with a past more international than most anyone I know. Her father had family in Kenya and Dubai, which she had visited may times, and had lived in Colombia and India over the past year, were she got a very beautiful blue scarf she wore to class. Creston was from Texas, and spoke very well, which he attributed to growing up in Al Paso. There was sophistaced, but barely 24 year old Merve, who a new yorker, but grew up in Turkey, and of course our teacher, Diego– a red Doc Martin wearing, chain smoking anarchist, Gogol Bordello loving, 32 year old fiction writer by night and separated father of two. He is hysterical and has an off penchant for explaining tiny nuances of grammar and language, and had me rapt for every minute of every day.

My Spanish Class

My Spanish Class

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Mala Murga

A few days ago I was hanging outside on the patio with Daniel, a guy from Rome also staying at our hostel.  He´s a musician, and has been strumming his guitar on and off in the evenings. Back home he´s a drummer, but I guess the practice pads he brought don´t give quite the same soul satisfaction. Adding to the artistic look, he has a mop of very curly dark hair, usually tied in a high ponytail that bobs every time he nods his head.

He had brought a laptop, on which he made a daily survey of the Italian left wing newspapers and Facebook, and also had a stash of music. I asked him if he wouldn´t mind playing the music of groups he´s been with, and he willingly obliged. To my utter amazement, instead of some spanish rock or whatever, the speaker pumps the most inventive jazz-gypsey funk fusion I´ve heard in a very long time! He then went on to tell me that his main occupation over the past few years, and his reason for coming to Argentina is to get further inspiration for his Murga.

Daniel is a self identified Communist (the good kind), and as he explained this is a form of political protest musical theater. He started one in Rome, and has brought his group to dozens of political protests over the last few years. I´d never heard of Murgas before, but its started in the 70´s as a form of street performance during carnival in Uruguay to bring attention to the ongoing ills of slavery, and it took off in Argentina, and then Europe. Wonder what the anti-war protests wouldn´ve been like in New York if we had something like this?

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